Rest in peace: More than 400 tombstones placed in Toronto small business storefronts

Tex Thomas stands in front of his Toronto business. (Courtesy of Buy Toronto Time)

Toronto businesses are placing tombstones in their windows—a symbol of what’s to come as they struggle to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’ve noticed tombstones popping up in the windows of local businesses around Toronto, you’re not losing your mind.

A new campaign, aiming to encourage people in the Greater Toronto Area to support local, has garnered more than 400 participants.

The campaign, called “Buy Toronto Time,” involves local businesses placing a tombstone poster in their window to raise awareness about the struggles small businesses in the city have faced over the past year.

“Each poster includes the business name and opening date, but the second date remains blank— as many businesses are struggling to survive the pandemic,” a release on the campaign said.

Twenty-eight business improvement associations in the GTA are participating in the campaign, with more than 400 businesses placing posters in their windows.

The majority of businesses are in the neighbourhoods of Parkdale, Riverside, Leslieville, Broadview Danforth and GreekTown on the Danforth.

Organizers hope that the campaign will evoke a sense of potential loss, urging people across the city to take action.

“Buy Toronto Time is about the life or death of an individual business in our city’s neighbourhoods,” John Kiru, Executive Director of Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, said in a statement.

“With a possible end to the pandemic insight, Torontonians may think that means all businesses will live on. But the fact is they need support now more than ever.”

According to the Canadian Federation of Indepedent Business (CFIB), the average Canadian small business is $150,000 to 170,000 in debt, with 70 per cent of business owners coping with COVID-19-impacted debt.

Among those businesses, three-quarters will take more than a year to repay loans, the CFIB says.

Tex Thomas, owner of Pro League Sports in The Beaches, wants shoppers to know they hold the power.

“Our customers need to know that the survival of local businesses is in their hands,” he said. “By shopping local they have the power to help us survive. So many businesses have already closed, people need to rally to save those of us who are left.”

Kiru hopes that Buy Toronto Time helps shoppers to realize what could be lost before it’s gone.

“We’ve seen people react to the permanent closure of local businesses with sadness and even regret they didn’t do more to help, but by then it’s too late,” said Kiru. “With this campaign, we hope to spur people into taking action to support their favourite local business while there’s still time.”